Narrative in the Qur'an

The Qur'an contains many narratives (qisas, sg. qissa), referred to in the Qur'an itself:

'We do relate unto thee the most beautiful of stories, in that We reveal to thee this (portion of the) Qur'an ...' (Al-Qur'an 12: 3).

These narratives, which illustrate and underline important aspects of the Qur'anic message, fulfil their functions in a variety of ways. The following are some of the more common patterns:

Explanation of the general message of Islam.

As far as the contents of these narratives are concerned, one may, broadly speaking, distinguish between the following three kinds:

Similes in the Qur'an

The Qur'an also employs similes (amthal, sg. mathal) in many places to explain certain truths or to drive home important points of the message, by likening it to something well known or describing it in a pictorial manner. [See, e.g. 16: 75-6.]


'He sends down water from the skies and the channels flow, each according to its measure; but the torrents bear away the foam that mounts up to the surface. Even so, from that (ore) which they heat in the fire to make ornaments or utensils therewith there is scum likewise, thus doth God (by parable) show forth the truth and vanity, for thc scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth. Thus doth God set forth parables' (Al-Qur'an 13: 17).

Passages with Qul

More than 200 passages in the Qur'an open with the word 'Qul' (say:), which is an instruction to the Prophet Muhammad to address the words following this introduction to his audience in a particular situation, such as e.g. in reply to a question that has been raised, or as an assertion of a matter of belief, or announcement of a legal ruling, etc.


'Say: Nothing will happen to us except what God has decreed for us: He is our Protector ...' (Al-Qur'an 9: 51).

'Say: O people of the book. Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in God, and the revelation that has come to us and that which has come before (us) and perhaps that most of you are rebellious and disobedient?' (Al-Qur'an 5: 62).

'They ask thee concerning (things taken as) spoils of war. Say: (Such) spoils are at the disposal of God and the apostle: for fear God and keep straight the relation between yourselves: obey God and His apostle, if ye do believe' (Al-Qur'an 8: 1).

Oaths in the Qur’an

In a number of places the Qur'an employs oath-like expressions (aqsdm, sg. qasam). [For a brief discussion see also Abdullah Yusuf Ali, op. cit., App. XIV, pp. 1784-7.] Their function is to strengthen and support an argument, and to disperse doubts in the mind of the listener. In the Arabic text these passages are often opened by the word 'wa' or the phrase 'la uqsimu' (indeed I swear).


Sometimes an oath is taken by Allah himself:

'But no, by thy Lord, they can have no real faith until they make thee judge in all disputes between them and find in their souls no resistance against thy decisions but accept them with fullest conviction' (Al-Qur'an 4: 65).

Other oaths are taken by Allah's creation:

'By the sun and his (glorious) splendour, by the moon as she follows him, by the day as it shows up (the sun's) glory, by the night as it conceals it; by the firmament and its (wonderful) structure, by the earth and its (wide) expanse, by the soul and the proportion and order given to it ...' (Al-Qur'an 91: 1-7).

'I do call to witness this city ...' (Al-Qur'an 90: 1).

Man should only take an oath bv Allah the creator. but not by anything created.